11th Feb 2020
Last Friday morning, jazz lost one of the great figures in the music’s evolution. Charismatic, maverick, flamboyant – Cecil Taylor was all of these and more. A pianist whose extraordinary technique and energy took him into uncharted waters that changed the language of jazz forever – but he was also a visionary whose creative world encompassed dance and poetry alongside a musical journey that began back in the 50s, with landmark recordings stretching back to his first, Jazz Advance (1956) through classic mid 60s Blue Note albums such as Unit Structures and Conquistador!, to a series of collaborations that run up to relatively recent years, many of them live. And it was his live performances that really stay in the memory – his stage presence was both mesmerising and jaw-dropping, a force of nature with a seemingly unstoppable cascade of ideas - the jazz musician who brought an emotional visceral power to the intellectual art of improvising. And it was Cecil Taylor live that Serious had the privilege of working with, especially in the company’s early years. Even preceding Serious, an extraordinary collaboration at the Roundhouse with Diane McIntyre’s dance company was a major Camden Jazz Festival concert – and we hit a period of several years where the company organised his European touring, including his first concerts with the innovative British percussionist and improviser, Tony Oxley – an association that continued long into the new century, and included a London Jazz Festival concert with another maverick figure from the 60s avante-garde, trumpeter Bill Dixon. Most memorably perhaps, we produced a very rare duo concert with another radical and hugely influential jazz master, the drummer and composer Max Roach, at the Barbican in 1999.
Cecil’s passing brings back a host of memories for a couple of Serious old hands – not only for the music, but for an artist whose vision ranged across an extraordinary breadth of cultural reference points. And however further out his own music reached, had an immense respect for the tradition – whether sparring onstage with Mary Lou Williams, or hanging out backstage with Betty Carter…and didn’t he love to hang…... Cecil had an often playful appetite for life that saw him take to the dance floor as well as the concert stage. Aficionados of Gilles Peterson’s club nights at the Wag, back in the day, may well have spotted him…..